Is the Era of Transhumanism a Final Corporate Takeover of Humanity?
counterpunch.org · by
Transhumanism is knocking at the door. Dubbed as Humanity+ or H+, the idea to radically revolutionize humanity has emerged in the last decades as a global intellectual movement. With a slogan of melding humans with the machine, it aims to radically alter human nature by means of technological advancement.
Proponents of transhumanism envision a human that goes beyond its current biology and cognition. They are trying to move society into the next stage of human development where man achieves super-intelligence and emotional well-being. Transhumanists ask, “If humans can interfere with the process of evolution, is it possible for us to create a human being with greater capacities than what we are now? Can we make a human species without weakness of disease and illness, anger and sadness, and ultimately overcome death itself?”
Some see such technologically driven future as not just desirable, but a necessity. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX indicated an inevitability of humans to symbiotically bond with artificial intelligence, if the human species were to remain relevant. This call for humanity’s radical makeover comes right at the midst of the digital age, where Homo sapiens, with the progress of science and technology is crossing the Rubicon, challenging physical boundaries and organic biological limitations.
Our fake world, fake democracy
The rapid expansion of technology in this new millennium radically transformed our social landscape. The modern life filled with information has placed everyone behind computer screens and cell phones. As society has become more abstract, it became virtual, fabricated with images that are dissociated from the facts and events of the world.
In many ways, the recent hype of “fake news” reflects this counterfeit reality that we are all surrounded by. Waves of whistleblowers in recent years revealed that we live in a kind of simulation intervened by government and corporate media propaganda. The 2008 financial meltdown exposed the global economy, overdriven by the bubble of toxic assets and stocks that were propped up by central banks with their money made out of thin air. This Ponzi scam of financial engineering was further covered up by bank bailouts, creating a fake recovery.
Meanwhile, our ‘democracy’ has been one big consumer fraud. We have been duped by psychopaths in power who pull the strings of puppet politicians. Civic power has been fragmented by a corporate duopoly, keeping the populace in false hope for change in the electoral arena. With tactics of divide and conquer, monetary elites behind the scenes trigger emotions, stirring conflicts among voters in a national tournament of identity politics. Once people are trapped by fear and hatred that are carefully manufactured, they easily lose sight of reality. Rather than finding commonality and building a coalition to solve problems, many engage in mutually assured self-destruction.
While the American working class is distracted by this political charade, the economy continues to stagnate, making the divide between the rich and poor ever wider. The beast of neoliberalism that has been devouring victims abroad is now finally coming home to roost. Now, ordinary Americans are suffering from unemployment, homelessness and lack of access to medical care. Young people are burdened with predatory student debt, where despite the promise of college recruiters, there are few viable jobs for them. Social services are defunded, throwing away elders, while a military budget gets fatter and fatter, with increased defense contracts for the never ending wars.
Free ticket to heaven?
While political corruption is deepening the crisis of institutions and governments, Silicon Valley tech companies through lobbying have steadily gained influence in Washington. Now, technological innovation is pushed forward as a solution to the breakdown of social systems. From Apple and Google to Facebook, giant tech companies put a monopoly on AI, trying to control its development, so to dictate the course of our future. With the initiative of universal basic income (UBI), wealthy and elite technologists advocate for the creation of a robot economywhere labor is replaced by automation.
Here the radical vision of humanity 2.0 arises. The coming of a post-human era promises to alleviate suffering, make us stronger, more intelligent and godlike. Transhumanists try to bring eternal life through insemination of machine intelligence into the human body. By combining big data with AI software, the idea is already there for humanity to attain digital immortality, where one can develop mind clones of oneself that has its own life on the web. Dr. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and futurist shares his aspiration of uploading a digital memory, creating a new pill that slows down people’s perception of time and drugs that can eliminate painful memories.
The idea of fusion with technology as a next stage in human evolution can speak to our own narcissism induced by social media attention culture. The H+ agenda can be marketed by appealing to one’s desire for recognition, to be boundless and to attain mastery of oneself. Through social engineering, it will corral the herd and achieve mass adoption. Yet this techno-utopia does not come for free. One has to pay a heavy price for the ticket to this supposed heaven on earth. In the exchange to transcend human limitations, we are asked to give up the essence of being human. What are we expected to sacrifice on this altar of transcendence?
Free will and learning
Humans are endowed with subjectivity that places them in relationship with the world. With this self-awareness, we are given freedom to determine the course of our own actions. While machines can only do what they are programmed to do, humans with intention can choose their actions and alter the situation through insight and creativity. This freedom releases spontaneity and variation, making the environment not fixed and unpredictable. At the same time, out of this comes the potential for errors. Choices expose men to the propensity for mistakes and make them fallible.
The AI trend of technological intervention of humanity now threatens this ability to make choices. Automation narrows and eliminates the space for humans to make their own decisions, locking society into a deterministic future. Through scientific and mathematical precision, the force of mechanization tries to remove possibilities for errors and by doing so, it deprives something essential about human beings.
What make us different from these artificial beings is our free will and unique learning processes that are associated with it. Our connection to the world binds us deeply to the consequences of our own choices. In a moment we make a mistake, reality blows up in our face and we are forced to see the results of what we have created. The feeling of shame and guilt that overwhelm us can break the heart wide open. The unbearable pain awakens one’s moral sensibility. With these burning sensations, we directly experience our own actions and the effect they have on others’ lives.
When we confront our own mistakes with honesty, we can transform this sense of humiliation into humility. We learn to become humble. This connects us to other human beings, allowing us to see reality from their perspectives. This empathy makes us strive to mend our actions. It is the foundation of conscience that makes humans acknowledge their errors and inspire one another to repent, undo wrongdoing and learn.
Fiction of corporate personhood
It is this morality rooted in our relationship to the environment that corporate culture has been trying hard to eradicate. Agendas behind transhumanist movements can be seen as the ultimate goal of transnational corporations. The rise of corporate power turned civilization against nature. Multinational agricultural biotechnology corporations like Monsanto have assaulted life by monopolizing seeds and poisoning food with GMOs.
Corporations as artificial entities bring the force that hardens the heart. They assert themselves in society through the legal fiction of corporate personhood. The theater of the American Dream managed by big business has turned citizens into consumers, who are directed to find happiness in consumption and material acquisition. Unbridled greed of capitalism bombards all with ads and commercials, 24 hours 7 days a week, making us chase after products that we don’t need and to be always cheerful, while suppressing sadness and deep dissatisfaction of life with antidepressant drugs. Ensnared by glamorous Hollywood life and a culture that worships youth, many engage in a pathological pursuit for perfection, to be beautiful, thin, and ageless.
In this fictional world, we are not humans. Workers are exploited, being treated as disposable with no benefits, while mega corporations look for the next cheap labor to exploit and new markets to make a killing. The merciless cyborg with its callous skin controls world finance, turning all living beings into caricatures in their tyrannical fantasy. In this artificial natural selection pushed forward by the invisible hands of the market, the cold algorithm enacts financial terrorism, dictating who should survive and who should die.
Pursuit of happiness and pathological drive for perfection
Now, in Trump’s America, the fiction of corporate personhood finds a new iteration to make its dream great again. As the nation consolidates power with the new administration, we all become contestants in The Apprentice. In this grandiose Reality Show, we are told to mimic corporate personhood, to be cunning and self-serving or we will be fired. The world of Wall Street entices all to a path of personal power, filled with ambition, vanity and pride. Plundering through exploitative business practices and addictive gambling of high frequency trading becomes a way of life. Corruption is rife with rampant greed and sexual conquest.
Inside 9-5 office hours of white collar jobs, relationships became impersonal and transactional, where people are forced to hide real emotions behind professional masks. In this supposed free market competition that bars entry to immigrants, people of color and transgenders, workers are trained to mind their own business by climbing up the ladder of success in a rat race of profit at any cost. Deep inside the labyrinth of organizational hierarchies, we are cut off from our own authentic feelings and lose the ground of consensual reality. We no longer are held accountable by feedback of others.
Now, with depletion of resources and environmental destruction, the life of the American dream is becoming unsustainable. As the fantasy of corporate personhood is losing its fuel, it seems to be carried into a vision of techno-utopianism. Through mass surveillance and authoritarian use of police force, the corporate state has been attacking privacy and autonomy of individuals. From face recognition technology and biometrics used at borders to AI augmented cyber-security and auto flying drones, it further mechanizes this world. The goal is no longer just total control of the world to create an ever more perfect world, but to control human nature itself by reprogramming our biology to create a perfect self.
As the disfranchised middle class is slowly waking up from their insulated reality and starting to face their broken life, transhumanism offers all a short cut to nirvana. From the magic of genetic modification to the creation of the mind file, through making humans directly interface with the net, technology is presented to rescue us, trying to numb throbbing aches in the arteries that carry the ebb and flow of our human experience.
Humanity at a crossroads
Transhumanist thinkers with technological enlightenment ideas declare the liberation of humanity from a cog in the wheel of the corporate machine, only to once again ensnare all in their Sci Fi illusory future. From self-driving cars to androids, robots that are designed to look and act like a human, artificial intelligence is here in everyday life, promising to make our life more convenient, efficient and safe. With a gospel of machine supremacy preaching perfection, increased dominance of technology can annihilate our free will that is a prerequisite for developing conscience.
With artificial nerves that can’t carry the warmth of blood, robots mimic life in their synthetic existence. They are the phantoms that claim immortality, when they never even had a chance to truly live. These ghosts in the machine make us sever our ties to the world, by turning the heart into a pump that pushes out the pain of our mother in her giving birth to a child.
Our remembering of her pain that brought all of life makes us remain connected to her world. “We are living in a fake world; we are watching fake evening news. We are fighting a fake war. Our government is fake,” said renowned Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. He continued:
But we find reality in this fake world. So our stories are the same; we are walking through the fake scenes, but ourselves, as we walk through these scenes, are real. The situation is real, in the sense that it’s a commitment, it’s a true relationship.
Our ability to feel is a testimony of being human, allowing us to be a real person in this fake world. To be human is to live among flesh, being audaciously flawed. Our striving to bear our own pain awakens compassion. We are able to forgive ourselves and others. We find strength to love one another in our authenticity found in each other’s imperfection. This total acceptance of human errors connects us to potent creative power within that resists rigidity, mechanization and all stagnation, keeping the world alive through our relationship with her.
Humanity is now at a crossroads. With the exponential growth of technology, we have the capability to bring a great turning or destroy the world. Branches of science; technology, engineering, chemistry and medicine helped mankind overcome natural disaster and disease and live more comfortably in this harsh physical environment. Renewable energy technologies can help us create a sustainable future. These are tools that can be used for the good. They can reduce poverty and enhance the quality of our lives, but they can be also used against us.
Transhumanism is marching on into our society, showing its footsteps everywhere. With iPad and Android, talking gadgets are entering into the crib, hijacking childhood imagination. Day and night technology snatches youngster’s attention, plugging them into Instagram and Snapchat. As the expansion of this machine world accelerates, our life gets faster and faster, making it harder for us to be present in our own bodies.
We need to stay awake and not sleepwalk through this time of transition. Reality may be painful, but if we lose our own sense of reality by giving up what feels at the center of our hearts, it will be the death of our own selves. Such is a tragic loss of what it means to be human and the life of all on this planet that we are meant to steward. It is our ability to make choices that will create the future and this freedom must be claimed by each one of us.
Nozomi Hayase, Ph.D., is a writer who has been covering issues of freedom of speech, transparency and decentralized movements. Find her on twitter @nozomimagine